For those who love books, I cannot recommend the Dalkey Archive Press highly enough. Recently, I ended up buying a small pile of novels and short story collections from its libraries of Japanese and Korean literature- luckily, they were all quite cheap. One of these was Plainsong, which turned out to be just the sort of book I had been in need of right now, filling the gap left inside of me after finishing Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen. In fact, I needed it so much that I read almost the whole thing in one day. (It’s been a long time since I’ve had the chance or the enthusiasm to do something like that.) This book is wonderful. While in no way is this a fluffy diversion, it is still gentle and light. Recently, I’ve started spending many hours of my spare time in a nice, quiet cafe, drinking green tea and reading books. This is the perfect kind of book to read in such a place. It’s mellow, calming and reminds me how much I’d love to visit Japan myself someday.
Even when reading Science Fiction or Fantasy (my favourite genres), I prefer stories where not that much happens. I don’t mean stories where nothing happens; just ones that take their time with a few small events. The personal matters more to me than the global. For all those reasons, Plainsong is the sort of book that suits me, even if it isn’t SF or Fantasy. It doesn’t have any plot (unless you count the nameless narrator’s attempts to befriend a neighbourhood cat), it makes no great observations about life, and none of the characters achieve anything major, but that’s what I love about it. To me, Plainsong describes the ideal sort of life, and shows how such a way of living does not have to be boring. The characters who end up living with the narrator are all lightly eccentric, but thanks to the author’s style, none of them seem larger than life. The side characters, such as Yumiko, Ishigami and Mitani, are all wonderfully detailed, and from the narrator’s conversations with the first two, we get some insights into how, even though a person may try to avoid a certain way of thinking, it’s impossible to keep yourself from it altogether. I especially enjoyed the telephone calls to Yumiko, with her providing plenty of cat-related knowledge, as well as general criticism.
Plainsong is a lovely, mellow book. I’m glad I read it.